The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 1:14-20

Somebody told me once: "it's boring and frustrating to listen to your homilies, because you have only one theme to talk about. And the topic is SIN."

And it is true. The only one topic of all homilies should be "How to save people from their sins." There is no more important and no more urgent reality of our daily life. Eventually Jesus Christ came to the earth only and absolutely only for this purpose, to save us from the power of evil, from our sins and to liberate us from the fate and condemnation of Hell. This exactly is the Good News, the core of the Euangelion, the message of Christ. It's the Good News but not the nice news. Christ news is good because it's about our liberation and salvation. Hallmark's news are nice because they are about nothing. They are simply irrelevant.

This is why Jesus is beginning His messianic mission with the urgent and strong appeal "repent and believe in the GOOD News" and He finishes with strong and clear statement "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16,26)

All three of this Sunday’s readings present an urgent call.  Jonah tells the people of Nineveh that their sins have resulted in their suffering God’s wrath.  They would listen and repent.  St. Paul tells the Corinthians that time is running out and they have to change the ways of their lives.

They need to embrace the Gospel before they have no more time. Jesus begins his preaching by proclaiming, “The time of fulfillment is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  In all these three readings the main theme is??? Yes -- REPENTANCE. Did something change since then? I don't think so.

The Gospel of St. Matthew finishes with the words of Jesus:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28; 19-20

The Gospel of St. Mark ends with the words of Christ:
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mk 16; 15-16)

The last Jesus' words of the Gospel of St. Luke are:
"Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Lk 24; 46-48)

Do you think that Jesus was obsessed by the concept of sin or the idea of repentance?

The penitent asked, "Does God accept repentance and is able to forgive my sins?" The priest asked in turn, "Do you throw away dirty laundry?" "No," replied the sinner. The priest said, "Neither will God throw you away."  Anthony de Mello writes, "Jesus proclaimed the good news, yet he was rejected. Not because it was good, but because it was new. We don't want new things when they involve change and most particularly if they cause us to say, 'I was wrong.'" We are told the only person who welcomes change is a wet baby.

"Repent and believe the good news" are the first words that Jesus the Christ spoke in the Gospel of Mark. So, one must conclude that this brief message must be of paramount importance to Him. They are but six words and yet they continue to turn the world upside down. And they send us into denial.

The first word of Christ's message is that frightening word "repent." The sinner has only two options - to be pardoned or to be punished. Christ defines repentance as not merely saying, "I'm sorry" but also "I will change my life." While God forgets the sin, He does not forget the repentant sinner. When God forgives us in the confessional, He suffers from total amnesia. Heaven, we are advised, is filled with converted sinners and the good news is: "there is room for billions more. But we must repent."  Christ would remind us, "No matter what your past may resemble, your future is spotless. And the saints are saints precisely because they kept on trying."

Modern culture dismisses sin removes this word from the dictionary. But the Nazarene does not buy into that message. A New Testament concordance contains a dozen columns on the subject of sin and only eight on love. God would remind us that He gave Moses on Mount Sinai Ten Commandments and not Ten Suggestions. He never said, "Keep my commandments unless of course you have a headache."

Somebody said, the difference between the ancient pagans and the new or contemporary pagans is that
-          The ancient pagans were aware of the reality of sin but they didn’t' have the means of salvation
-          The new pagans of our time they have the means of salvation but they not anymore recognise their sins.

The second term of interest in the six word message is the good news. The news is good precisely because it brings us to the truth. Until the advent of the Teacher, people could only search for God. No less a person than the mighty Job in 23:3 shouted out in pain, "Oh, that today I might find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!" But Christ says to today's Jobs, "He who sees me sees the Father."

The good news brings hope. The ancients dwelled in a culture of gloom. The Roman philosopher Seneca (3 BC-65 AD) spoke of "our helplessness in necessary things." Try as they might, people somehow could never get out of square one. They constantly found themselves behind the infamous eight ball. Their feet were forever tied together. Christ's arrival changes that scene. St Paul in Colossians 1:23 tells his readers that they must not be "shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the Gospel."French philosopher and Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin says: "The future is in the hands of those who can give people valid reasons to live and hope."  The good news offers everyone peace.

Virtue and evil are constantly fighting for the upper hand in each of us. Morally we are split personalities, moral schizophrenics. St Paul identifies with our human condition in the famous words, "The good I would do that I do not. The evil I would not do that I do."

Yet, if we surrender ourselves to the Christ, those two opposite personalities in us can at last become one worthwhile entity.  St Paul advises (in Ephesians 6): "Let the shoes on your feet be the good news of peace." If we take his recommendation, our feet will become unbound. We need not fear where they will take us. We will walk over pebbles and feel no pain.

Once Abraham Lincoln was asked what he thought of a sermon. He replied "it was good but had one defect. The preacher didn't ask us to be great." One cannot say that of Jesus in today's Gospel.  We ask the mystic, "How does one get to heaven?" She answers, "The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice! Practice! Practice! The repentance …"

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